My Favorite, Most Reliable, and Oh-So-Versatile Chocolate Cake Recipe

IMG_0774 Dear Smoke Detector Batteries,

Why, oh why must you always decide to expire at 2:30 a.m., precisely during the point in my dream when I am being handed the keys to my newly acquired  rustic chateau in the south of France?  Is there a reason why you can’t hold off until at least 7:00?

Sincerely,  Julie

It never fails.  Never. Ever.  Right when I have hit full REM mode, that piercing, chronic BEEP tells me that my smoke detector has alternative plans for my early morning activity.  This happened, yet again, last night.  Suddenly, our moonlit, peaceful room became utter chaos.  Lights were flipped on and Eric ran downstairs in search of batteries and the ladder while I tried to determine exactly which detector needed attention.  I was already planning to smash the %&#! thing if by chance we were out of batteries.

Fortunately, the annoyance was soon fixed, but my chance of a good night’s sleep was long gone.  I’m not one of those people who can just fall back asleep easily.  When I’m up, I’m up.  So, after tossing and turning for a few hours, I went down to make some really strong coffee.

I need a good, dark cup of coffee every morning regardless of how I’ve slept, but on those sleep deprived mornings, I always make enough to accomodate a small army.  I don’t know why I do this, because I still end up having just the one cup (like I said, it’s strong).  Maybe it’s psychological.  Maybe I just don’t feel like doing the math for the number of tablespoons of coffee that I need for a fraction of a pot.  Whatever the reason, I had a large supply of leftover coffee.

I hate to waste potential ingredients, even if that ingredient is hours-old coffee, so I searched through my collection of recipes to determine what I could make that requires a jolt of java.  Subconsciously, I already knew which recipe I would end up making.  The search was just gratuitous.  Nothing makes up for a sleepless night like the world’s best chocolate cake/cupcake recipe.

Much as I would like to, I cannot take 100% credit for this recipe.  I got it from “somewhere” several years ago, but I wrote it down and now I don’t recall the source.  If anyone can enlighten me, feel free.  I think that I tweaked it a little bit too, so it won’t be exactly the same as the original.  Anyhow, I have made this cake for countless people, and it is definitely my most requested recipes.  The texture is very moist, and the flavor is a deep, rich chocolate (partially thanks to the coffee.) My favorite thing about this cake, however, is that it is so forgiving when I am trying to shape it, trim it, or create layers.  I never have a problem with crumbling or breaking, which is a huge check-plus in my book.  IMG_0875

The batter also makes a tasty basic chocolate cupcake, with which I like to create variations, such as the S’mores Cupcake (above), and my take on a TastyKake Cupcake (below).  The other picture (to the right) is of a Lilo and Stitch themed cake that I recently made for a friend using this recipe.  I had know idea who Lilo and Stitch were prior to making the cake.  Thank goodness for Google.  Here are some of my extra tips for preparing this irresistible chocolate cake:

  • This recipe will make about 22-24 cupcakes.  Fill the cups just over halfway and bake them at 350F degrees for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean.
  • To make a two-layer half-sheet cake (such as the Lilo and Stitch cake, I doubled the recipe.)
  • For the S’mores Cupcakes, I mixed graham cracker crumbs with enough melted butter to achieve a graham cracker crust consistency.  Before baking the cupcakes, I sprinkled each top with 1 teaspoon mini chocolate chips and a few teaspoons of the graham cracker crust mixture.  The frosting was a mixture of butter, confectioner’s sugar, marshmallow fluff, and vanilla.
  • Because this cake is so moist, you can refrigerate it without the texture becoming dry.  Wrap the layers tightly with plastic wrap prior to chilling.  If you are making a half-sheet cake or a “sculpted cake”, then I definitely recommend chilling the cake for at least 2 hours.  This helps to make it sturdy enough to lift and trim as needed.
  • The batter can be made one day in advance and chilled, tightly covered.

My Favorite, Most Reliable, and Oh-So-Versatile Chocolate Cake Recipe

Makes one 9-10 inch layer cake


1 1/2 cups hot strong coffee (no wimpy stuff allowed!)

1/3 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

3 large eggsIMG_0781

3/4 cup canola oil

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups good-quality cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 300F degrees.  Spray cake pans with non-stick baking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Spray the parchment paper.

Mix the hot coffee with the chopped chocolate, stirring occasionally until the mixture is smooth.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add the canola oil, and mix at medium speed for 1 minute.  Gradually add the sugar, mixing until well combined.  Slowly add the buttermilk, coffee mixture, and vanilla, and mix until blended.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the batter in three additions on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean, 55-65 minutes.  Cool the layers for 15 in the pans, and then carefully invert them onto wire racks to cool completely.

Frost the layers as desired (I recommend white chocolate buttercream!), decorate, and serve!


  1. says

    Thanks for this incredible cake, Julie. I bookmarked it on delicious so I can go back to it when it isn’t 101 degrees here in Texas! I love the crumbs on the top!

  2. says

    Set a time on your calendar twice a year to change the batteries in your smoke alarms. We do that and since doing it, we don’t have the beeps in the middle of the night problem!
    Yum to all your cakes, but especially that S’mores one!

  3. says

    Thanks for this recipe Julie! I just made the cake (modified it a bit) and it looks and smells amazing – and I don’t even really like chocolate desserts! I think it was the coffee that really made it! Thanks again, I am sure that my cousin will enjoy it tomorrow for her birthday!

  4. says

    I’ve made this for cupcakes — once with chocolate frosting and another with peanut butter frosting. So good. Thanks so much for posting this recipe.

  5. Joanne J says

    Hello Julie — I Googled ‘reliabe chocolate cake recipe’ and arrived at your site. I needed just that for my 4 year old’s birthday cake as I had just had a disaster trying to modify a muffin recipe into a cake receipe. Anyway this is the most fantastic chocolate cake I have ever made and will now be the only one I will ever make. It was easy and like you say great for keeping and then decorating, no crumbs whatsoever as had a lovely glossy sheen to it. It was extremely moist and tasted fantasic. You really made my day, oh yes and the kids and parents at the party enjoyed it too! Thank you.

  6. says

    Joanne!  Thank you so much for letting me know about the cake.  I completely agree with you — as soon as I had this recipe, I saw no need to look any further for a chocolate cake recipe.  This it IT!!  It never ceases to amaze me how forgiving it is and how easy it is to work with (and how delicious it is too!)

    Glad that I could be of help :)

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